Cobbling Verse: Shoemaker Poets of the Long Eighteenth Century

By Keegan, Bridget | Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Cobbling Verse: Shoemaker Poets of the Long Eighteenth Century


Keegan, Bridget, Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation


The Crispin Trade! What better trade can be?

Ancient and famous, independent, free!

No other trade a brighter claim can find,

No other trade displays more wealth of mind!

No other calling prouder names can boast,

In arms, in arts,--themselves a perfect host!

All honour, zeal, and patriotic pride:

To dare heroic and in suffering tried!

James Devlin

Cobblers from Crispin boast their public spirit,

And all are upright, downright men of merit.

James Lackington (1)

Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British laboring-class poets hailed from a wide variety of primary occupations. However, there is one occupation that appears to dominate: shoemaking. In Great Britain, nearly fifty shoemaker poets appeared in print, some repeatedly, during the period extending from the late seventeenth to the late nineteenth century. (2) Even if those whose association with the trade is either dubious or brief were excluded, the phenomenon appears extensive enough to warrant examining why this particular trade cultivated so many poets. Furthermore, it justifies inquiring what the apparent affinity of shoemakers for poetic composition might reveal about developments in British laboring-class poetry in general. Studying shoemaker poets provides a useful means to test assumptions about laboring-class poetry of the long eighteenth century. A survey of the common features of these poets' backgrounds and their literary production--probing what led them to write and what they wrote--offers insight s into the conditions of possibility of the work of all laboring-class poets. In particular, examining the lives and works of shoemaker poets offers a perspective on laboring-class poetry that, at least in the eighteenth century, has only begun to receive sustained, separate consideration: the work of artisanal writers, as opposed to agricultural or "peasant" poets who have been the focus of most twentieth-century criticism of the topic. (3)

Perhaps most significantly, a study of shoemaker poetry uncovers a strong public dimension within laboring-class poetry, well in advance of the period when most scholars isolate the beginnings of more explicit politicization of laboring-class literature. Shoemaker poetry suggests that the use of literature to express social concerns predates the revolutionary 1790s or the rise of Chartism (a movement which boasted several shoemakers among its leadership) and other Victorian labor movements. Thus, while many modern readers have been disappointed to discover a lack of political expression within much of eighteenth-century laboring-class poetry, an examination of shoemaker poets should show that this group evidences a profound sense of communitarian values, as well as a public awareness that distinguishes its work from larger literary trends particularly after mid-century. For most of the eighteenth century, shoemaker poetry remains firmly within what might be labeled a more Augustan mode. Its various forms--wh ether didactic, hortatory or occasional--resists the movement within "minor" poetry, so exquisitely described by John Sitter, toward retirement or retreat from the world of public life and public duties. (4) Thus, while the poems written by shoemakers are not often politically "radical," they frequently exhibit a public and social emphasis that can be considered political. And while what explicitly political viewpoints these authors did express may not fulfill critical fantasies for prow-proletarian pronouncements, they do illustrate that shoemaker poets held passionate and strongly unorthodox beliefs for which they used poetry as their primary vehicle of expression. Their poems demonstrate that as an aggregate, shoemaker poets were not afraid to use writing to form and cement community or to explore and express publicly their beliefs and opinions. Therefore, a study of their works should show that contrary to popular critical assumptions, not all eighteenth-century laboring-class poets were content to fit th e mold of the solitary, artless "natural genius," or worse, to impersonate the fashions of polite poetry, as many unsympathetic critics suppose. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Cobbling Verse: Shoemaker Poets of the Long Eighteenth Century
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.